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Rad Bennett, November 2009

Moving to audio and video combinations, BBC’s Opus Arte label has released a large number of opera and ballet recordings on Blu-ray that are quite splendid. The cost of a ticket to a live performance has escalated, and you can now buy three or four Blu-rays for the cost of a single ticket to a live performance. Home theater will never quite eclipse live performances, but it can now be a grand alternative, allowing you to see close-ups and angles that the live audience can’t experience and hear sound that’s as good as most studio recordings. A good example is Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty (Opus Arte Blu-ray BD7037 D, ****), danced and played by the forces of the Royal Opera House. The music and story are known to most thanks to the Walt Disney animated feature, though at 135 minutes this stage production uses all of Tchaikovsky’s magnificent score instead of just snippets. The staging is the familiar one, with the choreography of Marius Petipa and breathtaking dancing by Alina Cojocaru and Federico Bonelli as the Princess Aurora and Prince Florimund.

The picture is sharp, with good contrast and excellent shadow detail. The colors are rich and varied, a long cry from Pioneer’s first ballet Laserdiscs, which were marvels for their day but now seem as faded as tintypes. The sound is a remarkable improvement as well. Those old lasers sounded like pretty good FM radio, but this Blu-ray, presented in PCM 5.1 and 2.0, is as good as a modern recording can be. Opus Arte has played around with different audio formats, often using Dolby TrueHD, but it still employs multichannel and stereo PCM more often than not. The result is a recording that offers great pleasure even without the picture, and adding the video provides an altogether rewarding, if different, experience. The soundstage is wide without a lot of depth, making the orchestra sound just like a pit orchestra. In the 5.1 version, you get some bounce from the hall as well as applause all around, and there’s also a little dramatic thunder that’s panned around the hall.

Tom Gibbs
Audiophile Audition, October 2009

Technically, this new Blu-ray from Opus Arte is little short of reference quality. The color representation throughout is simply brilliant, and the image quality is remarkably detailed; this is, undoubtedly, the finest video of a ballet presentation—bar none—I’ve ever seen. The clarity of image is incredibly impressive. Contrast, even throughout the ballet’s numerous darkish scenes, is superb, and the Blu-ray offers deep and consistent black levels. From an audio standpoint, the uncompressed PCM tracks are also magnificent; I did most of my listening through the 5.1 track, and it offered an immersive and powerful home theater experience, with plenty of oomph in all the right places! Bonus features are limited to a cast gallery and an illustrated synopsis, and with a lavish production like this one, it really would have been nice to see a hi-def making-of featurette, but let’s face it— the ballet itself is the true star here.

For lovers of classical music and ballet, this is a must have, and for the uninitiated—well, prepare to be wowed by the overall spectacle! Very highly recommended!

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